How have COVID-19 restrictions shaped your service’s community engagement?

One of the lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught is how important community and connection are to a sense of wellbeing. With parts of the country in extended periods of lockdown, many service teams are reflecting on how community engagement can be maintained during this time. This includes how service teams can continue to support children’s sense of belonging by helping them to experience connection and engagement with the local community.

Why connection is important

Before reflecting on strategies for engagement, you could start by revisiting WHY connecting with community is important. Does your service philosophy give you some clues about the values you hold? Do the principles, practices, and outcomes of the Approved Learning Frameworks remind you of the reasons you and your team strive to build meaningful connections? How does connecting with the broader community support the outcomes you are seeking?

Identifying your community

The Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) results give communities a snapshot of children’s development and can support you to understand where developmental vulnerability exists within your community. The AEDC website  provides an opportunity for service teams to reflect on a community profile and offers strategies so the data can be used to understand who your community is.

You and your team can then build on the information by considering what is in your local area (emergency services, library, schools/education and care services, local businesses). In speaking to children, families, educators and other team members, you can also explore their current connections (people, businesses, clubs, organisations, interests) and consider how you might build on them.

These can be great starting points for you and all those involved with your service as you support children to feel part of their local community. But how do you maintain these connections when you are unable to explore your community in person or have community members visit you?

What the National Quality Framework says

Standard 6.2 of the National Quality Standard highlights the significance of collaborative partnerships that enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing. Specifically, Element 6.2.3 focuses on the importance of service teams making community connections for the service as a whole, and to further support children’s sense of belonging by helping them to build and experience connections and be engaged with their local community.

So how can you and your team continually enhance your approaches so that COVID-19 restrictions do not limit your efforts to build connections and relationships with the world beyond the front gate?

During these uncertain times it is useful to think about creative ways to continue to maintain the relationships that you and your team have worked to build. During COVID-19 restrictions, methods of engagement are often based around virtual spaces, however finding new ways to connect can support not only children, but the educators, the families and the wider community as well.

Reinventing experiences

Reinventing quality practices and experiences that were once accomplished with ease, is not a simple task. However, through collaboration with your teams you will find there are many ways to continue to meet the requirements of Standard 6.2.3.

Some practice examples could be:

  • If you have a connection with an aged care facility or senior centre, there may be opportunities to:
    • play online games
    • send video messages
    • plant seedlings in personalised pots and do a contactless drop off
    • engage in a virtual music session with the facility
    • share in a virtual morning tea.

Creating videos and audio messages are a great alternative for children when seeking other ways to connect.

  • If you usually go on a weekly visit to the library, there may be opportunities to stay connected to the library:
    • through their online initiatives
    • by sending a weekly message to your Librarian about a book you and the children enjoyed
    • by reconnecting to past experiences by encouraging children to think and talk about all the places you would pass by or things you would usually see on your way
    • by recreating a library space with children and provide the experiences that occur when at the library.
  • If you usually participate in excursions to the zoo, museums, or science centres, there may be opportunities to:
    • engage with their online resources. Many of these and other venues are now live streaming and creating amazing content, allowing them to continue to surprise, delight, teach and connect with the wider community.
    • explore these as part of your program and encourage learning with planned and spontaneous activities.
  • If you engage with the local schools to support school transitions,there may be opportunities to arrange:
    • a virtual tour of the school to help familiarise children with their new school environment
    • virtual tours at your early childhood service to orientate new families when in-person visits are not possible.   
  • If you have a community library,there may be opportunities to:
    • reflect on turning it into a community pantry with supermarket supplies,
    • think about how you, your team and children can make resources accessible to families and the community when they may not be able to enter the service
    • display artworks, or community resources outdoors or on the fence for the community to engage with
    • create care packages or creative arts packages that your local community can collect and use at home.

Technology and media have increased access to other communities and organisations beyond your local neighbourhood. However, it is important to note that fatigue can set in with devices, so also look for solutions that allow you and your team to build and maintain your connections with community in “low-tech” ways. Drawing pictures, writing cards and notes, taking thoughtful actions, planning for future connections, and even reminiscing about people and experiences, can connect you to your community. These strategies allow you, your team and the children, the opportunity to work on communication without time restraints, and allows those you are connecting with to do the same.

The bigger picture

Reflect on ways children can develop empathy, respect and kindness. With the children, you could consider who might need to hear positive messages of care and concern during this challenging time. Encourage your learning community to look out for each other and those around them by doing simple things that make each other’s day easier or happier. Promote kindness in communication with families and the community, instilling a culture of hope and resilience. Every point of connection makes a difference.

The possibilities of who can become part of your community during this time have shifted and you and your team have an opportunity to push boundaries and find innovative ways to build and maintain relationships with the community. While the ideas discussed are relevant to a nation in lockdown, they are useful in reminding you to look at the bigger picture of connectedness. Whether it is through in-person visits, virtual communication or even letter writing. When you develop respectful and responsive links with the immediate or wider community, it will further enrich your quality practices, improving outcomes for children and families.

Digital documentation for families – quality or quantity?

Digital devices are of great use when documenting a child’s learning. They are particularly useful for capturing photos and videos of children to include in daily or weekly communications with families.

Documenting the program and the child’s progress within the program can make a child’s learning visible to their family. It creates valuable opportunities for starting meaningful discussions with families about their child’s progress and involvement in the program and routine.

National Regulation 76 and Element 1.3.3 of the National Quality Standard outline the requirement to provide families information about their child’s participation in the educational program. In addition, Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard focuses on building supportive and respectful relationships with families. These relationships are based on active communication, consultation and collaboration, which in turn contribute to children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing.

With all aspects of documenting children’s learning there are opportunities and challenges. We often hear that educators feel overwhelmed by the amount of documentation and are not sure about the best ways to document meaningful learning experiences, rather than just capturing what has happened during the day. It may be timely to review practices at your service to mitigate the challenges and maximise the opportunities.

The challenges

A digital portal, emails, social media and online newsletters are commonly used to share children’s photos or videos with families. Some services will often set a target for the number of digital items to be sent to families each day and educators will be expected to meet this.

Is this reflective of the digital age in which we live, where we have come to expect a constant stream of information? On the one hand, sharing each day with families what you capture provides them with the reassurance that their child is settled and happily engaged at the service. On the other hand, the images or videos that are shared may not be a true reflection about the child’s learning, play and time at the service.

To meet the challenge of providing a large number photos or videos – and particularly ones that are ‘picture perfect’ – an educator may end up choosing ‘clickable’ moments showing what has transpired, rather than the child in the context of their learning and development. As a consequence, other aspects of quality may also fall by the wayside, such as ensuring the images or videos serve as a springboard for meaningful conversations with families about their child’s learning and progress, and planning to extend children’s thinking and learning.

Another possible effect is that the dignity and rights of children may be impacted (Element 5.1.2) when numerous photos or videos are taken. The children’s voice may also be absent if they do not have the opportunity to consent to having their photo or video taken.

For families, multiple content each day can result in saturation. Consider at what point will the child’s family stop paying attention to what the child is learning and doing, and the images or video simply become a passing distraction.

For educators, there is a possibility that churning out photos and videos of each child may become a drain on their time, detracting from quality educator-child interactions which support children’s learning and development.

An educator’s role is also to model the respectful and moderate use of digital devices within a child’s routine, and their over-use to capture images and videos may send mixed messages to children.

The opportunity

A reset of the expectations around digital documentation for families is recommended. Involve all stakeholders – the service team, children, families and the community – in a reflection on what is needed, what is wanted and what is realistic for your service community and context.

Questions to explore

You can use the following questions as conversation starters at your next team or family meeting:

  • What parts of the program can be documented with a photo or video?
  • How does what we document contribute to the program and practice and the outcomes of the approved learning frameworks?
  • How can we ensure that we are respecting the rights of children and involve them in decision-making on documentation? For example, can we invite them to take the photos and videos of their play and experiences, or can we invite them to choose which ones we take?
  • How often should we document the children’s program and progress? Are photos and videos needed every day or is there an opportunity for ‘camera-free’ days?
  • What are the ways in which our families want to receive photos and videos of their child’s involvement in the program?
  • How do we ensure that we are meeting children’s individual needs while capturing their play and learning in the program?
  • How can we provide children with an opportunity to view and revisit their photos and videos?
  • How does our digital documentation of the program link to any paper-based documentation?

Continuous improvement

Quality, not quantity, is the old adage, and it rings true when it comes to documenting a child’s program and progress for families. Meaningful photos and videos that make learning visible are of far greater value than an overabundance of daily content.

As long as expectations are established at the outset, families will appreciate the quality and meaning of your rich documentation and the story that it tells about their child.

Resources to support your ongoing learning

  • The National Quality Framework: Documentation and linking with communities

Community partnerships and the benefits of learning through play

This month we hear from Nominated Supervisors, Ona Buckley and Daniel Betts, Preschool Supervisor, Michelle Williams and Early Childhood Teacher, Whitney Williams from Guliyali Preschool.

Recently awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA, the NSW Central Coast based service shares learnings from their longstanding partnership with residents of a local retirement village, part of their Ageless Play Program.

Partnerships are embedded in every aspect of our practice at Guliyali Preschool. Engaging meaningfully with our community promotes understanding and provides a genuine opportunity for relationship-building and collaboration. We have developed strong partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

At Guliyali Preschool, our community engagement programs are meaningful, authentic and mutually beneficial. Our longest running community partnership project has been with the Living Choice Deepwater Court retirement village residents who engage in our Ageless Play Program that has been running consistently for six years. 

Our relationship with the Deep Water Court retirement village sprouted from a conversation with a new family over 10 years ago. The family had recently moved into our local area away from their support network. The mother mentioned to an educator that her child was finding the move challenging as he missed the interactions with his elderly neighbours and grandparents. To support this family the educator made contact with the local retirement village and organised a visit. To begin with, the visits were only once a term, however as the relationships grew the partnership organically grew into monthly and now weekly visits. Each year we reflect on the partnership and the feedback from our families and children overwhelmingly supports us continuing these beautiful weekly connections. 

Mutual benefits

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’

George Bernard Shaw

Our Ageless Play community members, many of them retired school teachers, have unique strengths that we draw on to create programs that are inspiring and rewarding for everyone involved. The project has mutual benefits for the children in our service, the residents in the village and for our wider community. Through this program children learn the importance of providing friendship and companionship to others, regardless of whether they are significantly older or younger than themselves. The program enables our children to develop positive attitudes towards the elderly and to feel comfortable around those with disabilities and impairments. The retirement village coordinator reports that these visits help the residents break up their everyday routine, reduce feelings of isolation associated with ageing, and allows participants to rekindle relationships with the broader community. 

Reciprocal relationships

Our programs evolve to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Our Ageless Play program seeks to bring together various generations through a range of play opportunities, supporting communities and nurturing relationships. All key stakeholders are empowered throughout the delivery of the program as their voices are respected and heard. Children and residents of the village contribute to decision making within the group by making decisions on what activities to participate in. Educators benefit from the residents’ expertise and residents gain an increase in self-esteem and emotional and social wellbeing, reconnecting them with their community. Our Ageless Play partnership evolved and endured despite the visitation and communication challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was strengthened during the pandemic, and we were able to break down the restriction barriers by using technology to send video messages as well as traditional communication methods such as letter writing to maintain our relationships with the residents. 

Here are some strategies that we think could help services who are thinking about how to build their community engagement and partnerships:

1. Build local knowledge

Become familiar with your local community and the available resources and organisations with whom you can share experiences with. Take the time to visit places in the community that are easily accessible or invite members from local community groups into your service to share their knowledge and skills. Engage in authentic and respectful community celebrations that will build children’s understanding of their community and their respect for diversity.

2. Get involved!

Be a part of everything – become informed of community agencies in your area and reach out to local organisations that may also be looking to build a community partnership. Seeking the support and advice of community agencies such as libraries, Senior Citizen Associations, Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs may assist in providing links that can be nurtured and developed into long lasting relationships. 

3. Think broadly

Consult with stakeholders. Many families, educators, teachers and/or staff have links to community groups that would be happy to form community connections with children’s education and care services. There are a myriad of ways and opportunities for children to feel a sense of belonging in, contributing to, and influencing their world.

4. Critically reflect

Spend time reflecting on your sense of community and think about how it has been informed. Reflecting on what community means to you and the service can enrich decision making, increase awareness of influences and bias and provide goals for continuous community improvement projects. 

What has helped guide and support your community partnerships?

Living our values

Our service philosophy and vision remind us daily of our role in the community, it inspires us and provides direction and purpose. Visual representations of our philosophy around our preschool outline the purpose and principles under which we operate. It’s a tool to assist with the navigation towards our continuous improvement. 

Communicate widely and effectively

Effective means of communication aids in shared decision making for children. As educators, we must be givers of information but also receivers. Communication is integral in building relationships and engaging with others to create connected communities. We recognise that this comes in many forms: verbal, non-verbal, online, newsletters, informal and formal meetings and social media platforms. We are mindful of first languages and take a ‘not a one size fits all approach’ when communicating with our community. 

Recognise the experts within

Learn about your colleagues’ hidden areas of expertise, your families’ special skills and community resources that might benefit your program. Reach out to other children’s education and care services in your community. Acknowledging and recognising these ‘hidden experts’ identifies opportunities to initiate and establish community connections and collaborations. 

Interested in finding out more?

The Ageless Play Program is just one of many community-based partnerships and exceptional practices recognised in the awarding of the Excellent rating to Guliyali Preschool. Read more about their practices on the ACECQA Excellent Rating page.

Read more about Guliyali Preschool, which is situated within the grounds of Woy Woy Public School. Guliyali Preschool invites interested children’s education and care services to connect and share practice.

Looking to get involved with Ageless Play? Learn more about intergenerational programs here.

More information on the importance of your service vision and philosophy can be found in the following ACECQA blog post – Does your service vision lead the way?


Podcasts as a gateway for new understandings

Educator and children listening to podcast on table

This month we hear from Laura Stone and Linda Harrison from ABC Kids Early Education about using podcasts to build and support children’s learning and understanding. ABC Kids Early Education is a source for ABC Kids and ABC Kids Listen digital content aligned to six key areas: creativity and expression, family, community and culture, language and literacy, STEM and sustainability and nature.

When considering the diverse learning styles of young children, listening to podcasts can offer a fascinating new dimension to educator and teacher planning and practice. Children’s developing capacity to focus attention on each of their senses is a technique used in early childhood mindfulness practice.  There is now an array of quality podcasts available for young children that encourage ‘purposeful listening’, helping young minds and bodies to learn to listen with intent – thereby resulting in a natural calmness. Most quality children’s podcasts are great co-listening experiences and can be just as soothing and engaging for adult co-listeners as they are for children.

ABC kids noisy by nature logo bird calling

Listening to podcasts can help children develop important skills for ‘efferent’ listening – listening for factual information or ideas. For example, in ABC Kids Listen’s Noisy by Nature, children can hear many of the interesting sounds made by Australian animals and insects, while learning fun facts to help develop their understandings and respect for biodiversity in different natural environments along the way.  Just as reading a great storybook or having an in depth ‘picture talk’ will tease out additional understandings from children’s real-life experiences, so to can beautiful podcasts.

In Noisy by Nature, presenter Dr Ann Jones talks to children as if they are old friends – she asks questions, waits for a response, atmosphere builds in a layered soundscape of wind, waves and distant bird calls. We hear something loud or melodic or just plain silly ring out above the rest!  What is that wonderfully weird sound of nature? Noisy by Nature is a transportive experience for little listeners.

Educator and children drawing plants outside

An amazing podcast can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. A child’s gaze when listening to a cleverly crafted podcast is quite a special thing to behold. Just like hearing a story from a loved grown-up, you can see the imagining behind their eyes. As adults, we could liken this experience to the emotional journey we go on when reading a real page turner! No pictures, just an evocative narrative to take you to some place new in your mind. You can see yourself there with the characters, with the landscape, in the moment. Great podcasts are exciting!

What is joint media engagement?

According to the ECA Statement on young children and digital technologies, joint media engagement involves children, peers and/ or adults participating in digital activities together such as co-playing games and apps, co-viewing programs or co-listening to digital content together.

Listening to well-chosen appropriate audio content together provides children with the opportunity to ask questions and put forward ideas, which helps build language development through collaborative learning. These shared digital play experiences can also help educators scaffold children’s development of important dispositions for learning such as curiosity, interest, enthusiasm and imagination (Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF), Learning Outcome 4.1).

Using the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature podcasts as provocations for learning

Educator and children sitting at table making nest out of leaves

After listening to Your babbling birds, children explore bird habitats and create a nest for a Kookaburra using natural & upcycled materials.

Noisy by Nature episodes can be used as provocations to help educators and teachers intentionally engage children in learning. Sparking wonder in Australian animals or animal groups (marsupials, nocturnal animals, insects, amphibians, mammals), these audio resources can be used at any stage of an ongoing inquiry-based investigation. The podcasts allow children to be absorbed and fascinated by natures’ phenomenons, which provides the perfect springboard for meaningful play-based project work.

Aligning with the National Quality Standard (NQS) Element 1.2.2 ‘Responsive teaching and scaffolding’, podcasts can support the co-construction of knowledge about our sometimes weird and always wonderful world. The interesting facts about insects, animals and their natural habitats offer opportunities for educators to link programming to Learning Outcome 2.1 ‘Children become socially responsible and show respect for the environment’ in the EYLF. Thought-provoking follow-up learning experiences can focus on environmentally responsible practices and conservation to foster an appreciation of the earth and animals that inhabit it for future generations.

ABC Kids Early Education has designed a new free online resource with inspiring ideas for ways educators can use Noisy by Nature audio content to engage children in further explorations through hands-on, play-based learning.

View the ABC Kids Noisy by Nature Early Education Resources

These nature-based podcasts can support programming and planning across program areas including:

  • Environmental awareness
  • Respect for diversity
  • Science
  • Mindfulness

How can podcasts provoke follow-up outdoor education?

After listening, follow-up learning experiences in outdoor spaces can open-up inquiry and investigations into beach, bush or neighbourhood environments. Real life experiences in nature provide opportunities for children to connect with the landscape and their community, as well as explore nature and scientific concepts. According to the EYLF, including the exploration of nature in early childhood outdoor education programs “fosters an appreciation of the natural environment, develops environmental awareness and provides a platform for ongoing environmental education” (EYLF Principle: Learning environments).

The Noisy by Nature Excursion Early Education Resources could become a useful planning tool for outdoor education experiences in your local community. These free resources suggest ways children can make connections in their learning while out and about – linking to the EYLF and NQS in the following programming areas:

  • ‘Before you go…’
  • ‘While you are there…’ and
  • ‘When you get back…’.

Children as digital audio content creators

Educators and teachers can further support children’s developing digital literacy skills by encouraging them to make their own recordings of different sounds in nature, using a handheld device. This learning experience can help young children become familiar with how the different functions of digital technologies work, through exploratory play in a digital context. These child-created podcasts can be shared with families to support collaborative partnerships.

Share the ways you have engaged with ABC Kids Listen podcasts at your early childhood setting! The ABC would love to see your photos and learning stories in the ABC Kids Early Education Reflective Journal. Email the team at earlyeducation@abc.net.au.

References

Introducing new foods to children in education and care services

This month we hear from the National Nutrition Network – Early Childhood Education and Care (‘the Network’). This group of academics, researchers and implementers promote best practice nutrition and healthy eating in the early years throughout Australia. The Network provides practical resources based on research that support children’s education and care services to promote healthy eating. ACECQA would like to thank Amy Wakem, Lara Hernandez, Shabnam Kashef and Caryn Maslen for their contribution to our learning community. 

What’s all the fuss about fussy eaters?

Fussy eating is a phase that many children go through. Up to 50% of all 0-3-year-old children refuse to eat new and different foods at least half the time [1]. For some children, fussy eating tendencies are short-lived, but for others, they can last for much longer.

In a supportive eating environment, children can tell when they are hungry, when they are full and they can self-regulate their eating behaviours. It is their caregiver’s role to provide nutritious food, decide how often food is offered (through routine meal and snack times), and provide a relaxed child-friendly mealtime environment. This should include using appropriately sized utensils for children, as well as sitting and eating with the children. A child’s role is to choose whether to eat what has been provided and how much. 

It can take up to 10 or more exposures to a new food before a child may feel comfortable with it [2]. Mouthing a food (moving it around in the mouth but not swallowing) may be misinterpreted as a rejection of that food, however, this can be part of the acceptance process. Infants and young children learn how to self-feed and explore food using all of their senses, including touch, smell and taste. This is an important part of the development process. 

To create a child-friendly mealtime, avoid pressuring children to eat everything on their plate, and try not to make a big deal if they refuse a certain food. Forcing or bribing a child to eat can make them forget their own hunger and fullness cues. Educators who recognise how a child is eating by nodding and smiling rather than providing lots of praise or commenting on what has or has not been eaten are encouraging a child to respond to their own cues. 

Remember, too, that persistence is key. Keep offering a variety of foods, include food-based experiences (for example, cooking activities, designing a vegetable patch and growing and picking vegetables), and seek support from others when you need it. 

Encouraging children to try new foods

There are many different ways that educators and service leaders can encourage children to try new foods. 

You can encourage children to become familiar with new foods by:

  • Creating a children’s garden space where they plant, grow and harvest different foods. It doesn’t have to be big, growing herbs is a good place to start!
  • Reading books about different foods helps introduce children to food from around the world and increase their language of food. 
  • Offering a variety of nutritious food to children regularly which considers the individual dietary, health or cultural needs of each child (National Regulations 78 and 79).
  • Providing regular cooking experiences where children can explore texture, colour and smell, for example, grating, cutting and peeling carrots or apples. 

Take a whole-of-service approach and involve everyone in your service community by:

  • Role modelling healthy eating, helping to create relaxed mealtime environments and encouraging children to try new foods.
  • Planning menus with children and the service cook/chef that provide opportunities for children to try a variety of foods in a variety of meals and ways. 
  • Providing a range of resources that support children’s changing interest in fruit, vegetables and different foods. 
  • Respecting different food preferences by involving families in the decision making process when planning healthy eating activities and changing seasonal menus (Standard 6.1, Element 6.1.2). Ask families to share recipes of their child’s favourite home or cultural foods and include these on the menu. 
  • Regularly communicate with families and your community about how foods are introduced to children and the healthy eating activities happening at the service. Services should be displaying the weekly menu for families to review, including what the child has been given to eat each day (National Regulation 80). You can also create a visual display or share information through your communication channels such as your newsletter or Facebook page. 
  • Incorporating discussions about food and healthy eating habits into the daily program to encourage each child to make their own food choices. (NQS Standard 2.1).

Consider these reflective questions at your next staff meeting

  • How could you incorporate activities that involve new foods into your everyday program?
  • How do your current practices encourage children to try new foods in a supportive and positive way at mealtimes?
  • What information can you share with families about fussy eating, trying new foods and how you plan healthy eating activities? 
  • How do you share information about children’s mealtimes with families? Does your service display the menu, and how is this information presented to ensure it is accessible and informative (National Regulation 80. Is the menu engaging and interactive?
  • How does your service plan for children’s food preferences and requirements, including cultural or specific dietary needs? (NQS Standard 2.1)

Fussy eating is a part of children’s development, and support for families, educators and teachers is available. Seek out more information and activity ideas to introduce new foods, starting with the resource list below.

Resources to support and continue your learning

  • For tools and resources with a vegetable focus go to VegKit, which provides tools and resources to support approved providers, cooks, teachers and educators as they seek to increase children’s vegetable intake.
  • For other helpful advice on understanding fussy eating in children and healthy eating in general go to Start Them Right, a guide for parents on how and what to feed children from birth to five years. The Growing Good Habits website has information on fussy eaters to share with your families too. 

[1] Better Health Channel, Toddlers and fussy eating, Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria. Accessed, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/toddlers-and-fussy-eating

[2] Nekitsing C, Blundell-Birtill P, Cockroft JE, Hetherington MM. Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite. 2018 Aug 1;127:138-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29702128/

For every child, every right

In this month’s blog, we look at the role of the National Children’s Commissioner and explore some of the projects and resources developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that are relevant to approved providers, coordinators, educators, teachers and staff members working in the children’s education and care sector. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the appointment of Ms Anne Hollonds as the new National Children’s Commissioner.

Ms Hollonds, who will commence her five-year appointment in November 2020, replaces inaugural National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who has served in the role for the past seven years.

The National Children’s Commissioner 

The Commonwealth Government established the National Children’s Commissioner position in 2012 to help promote the rights, wellbeing and development of children and young people in Australia, and ensure their voices, including those of the most vulnerable, are heard at the national level.

The Commissioner promotes public discussion and awareness of issues affecting children, conducts research and education programs, and consults directly with children and representative organisations. The role also examines relevant existing and proposed Commonwealth legislation to determine if it recognises and protects children’s human rights in Australia.

The work of the Commissioner complements the work conducted by state and territory children’s commissioners and guardians. The position sits within the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Australia’s national independent statutory body dealing with human rights.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified in Australia in December 1990. The UNCRC is the main international human rights treaty on children’s rights, and as a party Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.

The UNCRC outlines the rights of children in international law. It contains 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.

The articles within the UNCRC are embedded within the objectives and guiding principles of the National Quality Framework (NQF). The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and the Framework for School Age Care (FSAC) also explicitly incorporate the UNCRC and children’s rights. Likewise, the Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Code of Ethics is based on the principles of the UNCRC.

Projects and resources for education and care services

The AHRC and the Commissioner have undertaken a number of major projects to draw attention to the human rights challenges facing children. Two projects, of particular relevance to the children’s education and care sector, are the:

  •  Child Safe Organisations project
  • Building Belonging toolkit of resources
Child Safe Organisations

As part of the Child Safe Organisations project, the Australian Government asked the Commissioner to lead the development of National Principles for Child Safe Organisations (the National Principles), released in February 2019.

Endorsed at the time by members of the Council of Australian Governments, the National Principles are based on the ten Child Safe Standards recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Royal Commission) that all organisations that engage in child-related work are required to implement. They are however broader in scope, going beyond sexual abuse to cover other forms of potential harm. The Principles aim to provide a nationally consistent approach to creating organisational cultures that foster child safety and wellbeing across all sectors in Australia.

The National Office for Child Safety, established in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, works with the Commissioner, states and territories and the non-government sector to coordinate national adoption of the National Principles.

All organisations that work, or come into contact, with children are encouraged to implement the National Principles to become a child safe organisation. This includes, but is not limited to, sport and recreation clubs, education and care services, schools, child and youth support services, and out-of-home care services.

Practical tools and training resources are available to help organisations implement the National Principles.

At present, compliance with the National Principles is not mandatory. However, organisations – including education and care services, are encouraged to adopt them to demonstrate leadership and commitment to child safety and wellbeing.

Food for thought…

Ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children is an objective of the NQF, and always a priority. Children’s education and care services play an important role in creating and maintaining safe and nurturing spaces that reinforce each child’s right to experience quality education and care in an environment that provides for their ongoing health and safety.

How might you adopt the National Principles to support best practice and advocate for children’s fundamental right to be protected and kept safe?

*Note: While the National Principles are broadly aligned with existing child safe approaches reflected in the NQF, education and care services must continue to comply with the NQF and meet existing legislative requirements in their state or territory in addition to their choice to comply with the National Principles. Links to state and territory child safe requirements and resources are available on the ACECQA website.

Building Belonging

Recognising that children’s education and care environments provide the ideal setting for children to begin learning about their rights and responsibilities, and to develop respect for those around them, the AHRC worked closely with the sector to develop ‘Building Belonging’.

Building Belonging is a toolkit of resources which includes an eBook, song with actions, educator guide, posters and lesson plans. The resources aim to provide educators with simple and practical ideas on how to handle challenging or confronting questions about racial differences, while also offering children stimulating activities and games to engage them with ideas around cultural diversity.

The toolkit has been designed to cater to both education and care and early primary school settings, developed to support the achievement of learning outcomes under the EYLF and the Australian Curriculum. The resources closely align with the National Quality Standard (NQS) and are linked to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Additionally, these resources support the fulfilment of children’s rights principles set out in the UNCRC.

The toolkit is a valuable resource that can be used to support Quality Improvement Plan (QIP) development and review. It can also assist educators in identifying current strengths and priorities for improvement when tackling the issues of cultural diversity and prejudice.

Food for thought…

Take a moment to consider if, or how, your service has accessed and used this resource in practice. Are there opportunities to incorporate, or extend on the use of this resource to support the development of cultural competence in your service?

Additional resources

The AHRC website promotes and provides a range of educational resources and materials aimed at building a universal culture and understanding of human rights. A recent news article, which may be of particular interest to education and care services, explores the potential effect the disruptions caused by COVID-19 may have on children and the important role educators, teachers, parents and carers play in supporting children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout these unprecedented and uncertain times educators and service leaders have shown dedication, resilience and a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education and care to support children and their families. Every children’s education and care service makes ethical choices reflective of their values, and throughout the COVID-19 crisis it has been heartening to see the continued emphasis on the safety, health and wellbeing of children and their rights and best interests remaining paramount.

Thank you for your valued work for Australian children, families and communities during this challenging period.

Further resources

ACECQA – We Hear You – Building Belonging: A toolkit for early childhood educators on cultural diversity and responding to racial prejudice

ACECQA – Reporting requirements about children

Australian Government – The National Office for Child Safety

Australian Human Rights Commission – Child Safe Organisations

UNICEFThe Convention on the Rights of the Child: The child-friendly version

Effective partnerships contribute to positive outcomes for children

In the first post of a three part series, guest bloggers Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School shared a key strength of their quality practice: a positive attitude towards continuous improvement.

In this second instalment, educators and teachers from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss how effective partnerships with families, colleagues, organisations and community members contribute to positive outcomes for children at their service.

John Brotchie Nursery School was awarded the Excellent rating by ACECQA in May 2020.

Partnerships

Partnerships are an embedded aspect of our preschool culture at John Brotchie. We have developed partnerships with many different organisations, colleagues and community members to enhance educational programs for our children and our service as a whole. These reciprocal relationships provide an opportunity to learn from each other, share ideas and plan for continuous improvement.

Our partnerships begin with our preschool community. Positive relationships with families are established as soon as children are enrolled in our service. We gather information about our families, including their strengths, interests, culture and beliefs. Parents have the opportunity to participate in our program and even become mentors for our educators.

One of our longest running parent mentors has been Jane. Jane is a scientist and has supported the educators to become more confident with embedding science into our preschool curriculum. She has developed our team’s knowledge of scientific concepts and together we have developed experiences for children that Jane and educators implement together. Other parents have been integral in helping educators understand cultural diversity. Donna has supported our educators to understand Jewish traditions and celebrations that her family and community participate in. These are just two examples demonstrating the important role that parents and family play in supporting and mentoring our team.

We also draw on the depth and breadth of knowledge of colleagues within our local community. We have developed networks with local preschools, other education and care services and schools in our area. Networks and professional learning communities enable us to utilise the strengths and knowledge of other professionals. One of our local network groups is with four other NSW departmental preschools. We meet once a term to discuss, reflect and share information about program documentation, policy development and emerging early childhood topics of interest. Working together, we build on our knowledge and implementation of early childhood pedagogy.

Our partnerships extend to the broader community. We have broken down distance barriers by using technology to network with colleagues who are in rural and remote areas. One of our strongest and longest running network groups has been with our colleagues from the Dubbo School of Distance Education and Broken Hill School of the Air, both distance education preschools. We have worked together to further our understanding of Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (EYLF) to support the development of high-quality, play-based programs in these rural and remote regions of NSW.

We believe that this reciprocal partnership has improved learning outcomes for children here at John Brotchie Nursery School and for the children in some of New South Wales’ most remote communities.

We have gained a wealth of knowledge from our partnerships and network groups. Our educators have really valued the reciprocal relationships of network groups and have implemented some wonderful changes to our practices. You might be able to start a network group in your local area for educators and teachers. We encourage you to reach out, call a colleague and introduce yourself!

In the final instalment of our guest blog post series, Kathryn Wetenhall and Rebecca Andrews from John Brotchie Nursery School discuss the value of outdoor learning and describe the many opportunities for outdoor play for children at their service.

Related resources on partnerships

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 3

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).

Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.

A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:

  • Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
  • maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
  • attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
  • frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
  • workflow or staff scheduling challenges
  • regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.

The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.

A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:

  • linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
  • demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
  • amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
  • evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
  • documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:

* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion

* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed

* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics      discussed and outcomes proposed

* collated survey results from children, parents or staff

* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.

Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.

Questions for further reflection:

  • How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
  • How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
  • How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
  • How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?

Conclusion

We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – ACECQA Self-assessment Tool

ACECQA – Information sheet – Developing a culture of learning though reflective practice

ACECQA – Information sheet – Developing and reviewing your Quality Improvement Plan

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

SNAICC / NSW Department of Education – Unpacking critical reflection: Dilly bag of tools for team leaders

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

The ACECQA information sheet Developing a culture of learning through reflective practice suggests the following questions when reflecting on your practice and planning children’s learning.

  • How do we observe, listen and critically review what is happening through the day?
  • Is the practice consistent with our beliefs, values and service philosophy?
  • Does our practice foster respect for and inclusion of all children and families?
  • What is best practice?
  • How do we monitor and change our practice?
  • What theories inform our thinking?

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Cartmel, J. – ‘Techniques for Facilitating Reflection’, Reflections (43): 12-13.

Early Childhood Australia – Reflective Practice: Making a commitment to ongoing learning

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

Queensland Studies Authority – Reflecting on my teaching practices

Stonehouse, A. – ‘Assessing children’s learning—work in progress! (Part 1)’, NQS PLP eNewsletter (73).

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13 / Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement